A quick Letter from the Editor to say that this is not so much a birth story as it is a post-birth afterword. As a long time writer & an intriguingly long time unpaid blogger, I started getting the question of, "When are you going to blog your birth story??" pretty quickly. & I get it -- I thought I'd be writing a birth story at some point, too. If not for the public, then at least for myself. Spoiler alert: My birth didn't go as planned. BIGGER spoiler alert: I ended up having a c-section. As someone who has been obsessed with natural birth since before The Business of Being Born even came out, this wasn't the story I wanted to tell. When was I going to share my birth story? I was stuck on whether or not I even deserved to call it that.
I kept trying to write it. Just for myself, even. It came out sad & defensive & like a psalm of mourning. To be fair, that's how I was feeling. On top of that, it felt stupid to be so emotional about it. It felt ungrateful to be lamenting how our baby arrived when there are people who would give anything to have a baby HOWEVER they came. So, I pushed the story down & tried to swallow it whole. Tuck it somewhere dark & ignore it.
The thing about being a storyteller is that if you have a tale to tell, it sort of pokes you until you do.
This is my disclaimer of sorts that I feel very strongly that the words below are meant for very particular people. People who are going through, have been through, or are about to go through this same chapter. In my gut, I know that this will speak to those who need to hear it, no matter how hard I've tried not to say it. Additionally, keep in touch with your doctors as you wade through any of these emotions. Post-partum depression & anxiety are real & they are sneaky. I stayed constantly aware to keep the conversation open & in check with my doctors.
This topic is vast, & truly unique to every single woman. If you walk away from this offended by something you've read, then I simply haven't written my thoughts eloquently enough. I respect every birth story, & send my most whole-hearted "YOU DID IT, YOU LIFE GIVER!" to every woman who has brought a child into this world in whatever way worked. To every woman whose arms ache to hold a baby of their own, know that my heart & prayers go out to you, & that the gift of motherhood is not something I take lightly or am ungrateful for at any second of any day.
There are two versions of this photo that I took one year ago today. One where my face is more hidden, which is the one that went on Facebook & in the baby photobook. & this one. This is a hard picture to look at, still. I've been avoiding it as I've flipped through images this entire past year.
The look on April 12th, 2017 Kelsey’s face is a very apt depiction of where I was mentally. The sadness in my eyes & the tightness of my lips. This was the day before my induction, 12 days past my due date. I was having to accept emotionally what my body had been telling me physically - It wasn’t doing “the thing.” The labor thing. The contractions thing. All the other physical signs of impending labor things. Our baby boy was still active, still high, still comfortable.
The night before I took this picture, my midwives had called to confirm my induction. I cried. Sobbed, really. I called my doula for advice & comfort. I cried some more. I cried because the vision I’d been imagining of laboring in our shower, finally calling our doula over, arriving at the hospital & being told how far dilated I was (It would be a surprising 8cm, already! of course)… All of that was being taken from me. I cried because no matter what good intentions were meant by all of the classes & books & websites on natural birth that I had poured over, “induction” & “intervention” had been instilled as bad words in my mind, & I felt like I was failing the test. I cried because it felt like I had already failed. I cried because WHY. WHY WAS MY BODY NOT DOING THIS ON ITS OWN. I cried because my recent family history is a long line of c-sections, & I had wanted so badly & done everything in my power to break the cycle, but this felt like the writing on the wall. I cried because why was I crying… I was about to meet our baby! I cried because I was 2 weeks overdue, & that was a mental mountain I had never imagined I’d have to climb.
As it turns out, a year later, I am still on the descent.
The details of my labor aren’t important - This story has a happy ending. My midwifery team, the OB team that eventually came into play, my doula, & Jared all empowered me to fight as hard & as long as I could before Crew’s little heart couldn’t take it. My labor ended in the c-section that I had feared all along. Nothing can prepare you for how fast things move the moment that the c-section call is officially made. I had the presence of mind as I was being wheeled down the hall to the OR to think, THIS IS IT. I'm about to meet my son! & give my belly one final rub.
We were able to enjoy some of the perks of a “gentle c-section”, which I was grateful to have researched & included on our birth plan as a just-in-case forethought. We never felt pressured or forced into the c-section, but rather educated & enveloped in empathy & encouragement. Our knowledge of our hospital & birthing team’s insanely low c-section rates has been a mental respite for me — We held our ground, I fought my part of the battle, & in the end, we made the best decision for our baby.
The two or three months that followed were the hardest. Even after our doula came over for our post-partum visit & talked me through the entire story again, I still couldn't shake the heartache I was feeling. It wasn't the c-section. It was failure to go into labor. Babies kept being born to friends: Early, at home, after 7 hour labors, on their actual due date, naturally. Even tougher, babies kept being born to acquaintances that I knew couldn’t have cared less if they’d had a c-section or an epidural or naturally. Mother’s Day rolled around & some video went viral about the very moment that mothers push their baby out, with footage of water births & mothers catching their own babies. That was the worst. This quote from the NPR article I linked to above articulated my exact feelings:
"It took me a long time even to be able to say that I gave birth to Avery ... I felt like I didn't earn the right to say I gave birth to him, like it was taken from me somehow, like I hadn't done what I was supposed to do."
I felt like I was being ripped apart every single time.
I went through this emotional turmoil of not feeling like I had “delivered” my baby. Labored, SURE. I had 18 unmedicated hours of that under my belt. But that moment. That final push. I didn’t know it. I couldn’t identify. I wasn’t in that club. Being told you’ve finally made it to 10 cm? I never got past 4.
I went through the emotional self-shaming of feeling like it was my fault. My fault for not having a body that went into labor “on time.” My fault for not going past 42 weeks to see if my body would go into labor on its own. My fault that the induction stressed my tiny baby’s body out so much that it led to a c-section (***While the induction may have played a part in my c-section, I have no actual proof that it was a direct result. The majority of women who are induced at my midwifery don't end up having c-sections. This is just a part of the mental blame game that I'm working to overcome.)
I went through the emotional embarrassment of meeting another c-section mama & being so grateful - Ah! You too! Only to find out that they had what I perceived to be a “better reason” for their c-section. Breech. Transverse. HELPP syndrome. Car accident. It was an entirely new level of the comparison game. Meta, really. Beyond that, the embarrassment of having such a wonderful & honestly, loving birth team that walked us through the whole thing, & STILL being so upset over it, an experience that so many c-section mothers do not have.
Jared -- My rock, & ever the yin to my glass-half-empty yang -- had a hard time empathizing with me. To him, we had a baby! A healthy, giant baby boy. He slept through the night, ate like a champ, & had a perfectly round head - All the results of being overdue & a c-section baby. What was there to be sad about? But he knew to let me talk, & that all I needed him to do was listen. His love & care honestly carried me through alllll the emotions. I can honestly say, on what is probably 3/4 of the way to the "other side," that GETTING YOUR FEELINGS OUT is the most important thing. Don't bottle it up. Don't stay silent. That can turn into something else entirely, especially post-partum. Talk to you spouse, mom, sisters, close friends, a therapist. It's the healthiest thing you can do.
So! A year later, where am I?
Well. It’s gotten easier, little by little. It’s also still really hard. These are some of my daily truths.
- I don’t want to crawl under my bed every time I hear about someone’s successful natural birth. I’m even able to be happy for them ;)
- I’ve listened a lot, & I’ve learned that nearly every labor has some sort of drama, whether it was the pregnancy itself, the labor, or the recovery. The Instagram captions are the simple version - Mine was! I just have to remind myself of that.
- I have replayed it a hundred million times, & I know we did all the right things. We picked a hospital with a renowned midwifery department because that’s where we were comfortable. With a 4% c-section rate, we couldn’t have been in better hands. I LAUGHED when my midwife told me with tears in her eyes that they recommended preparing for a c-section, because OF COURSE I was one of the 4%. Our induction method was the lowest intervention level. We built an incredible birthing team & did so much research & learning. I truly believe that we would have made the same decisions if we did it all over again.
- I am so grateful for the foresight of our labor team to prepare us in time for a non-emergent c-section. It was such a blessing, & the silver lining to a dark rain cloud. I don’t mean to be insensitive to c-section mamas that were unable to be awake & with their partner during their c-sections. My heart goes out to you.
- I am so grateful for modern medicine, when it could be that I'm just one of those women that would have died during childbirth in another time period or country. Crew & I were absolutely the recipients of the beauty of medical knowledge & modern technology.
- I FOUGHT SO MOTHER FREAKING HARD to have that baby naturally. With every literal ounce of my being, I fought. & I would have kept fighting. Not one single time did it cross my mind that I couldn’t do this. I was in it, & it was battlefield glory. This is what I have to tell myself every time I feel that remorse creeping in.
- Babies don't follow plans. This was the first time Crew would be teaching me that lesson (aside from that intriguing pregnancy test 8.5 months earlier), & he hasn't let me forget it since.
- God put this exact birth in my path because HE KNOWS even when I don't that I am strong enough to handle it. What a loud reminder of His sovereignty despite my constant attempts to pretend that I am in absolute control over literally everything. Hmph. While I certainly believe in the power of positive thinking & sheer willpower, I cannot allow myself to believe that I was too weak, that I gave in, that I was being punished, or that I did something wrong.
But the most important truth that I am constantly repeating to myself (& I want you to hear me on this) is this: There is no wrong way to have a baby. THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO HAVE A BABY. While I am incredibly proud of the awareness we have developed generationally & societally of natural birthing education, the labor shaming has got to stop. C-sections shouldn't be attached to failure, or shame. A medicated labor is the right decision for some women. I agree that women should be empowered by knowing their options & that c-sections & interventions shouldn’t be pushed unnecessarily or out of convenience. But the conversation needs to end with a healthy, screaming baby being the accomplishment. (I don’t say this to negate the incredible achievements of the women who have had successful natural births. I am in awe. I hope to join your ranks. Goodness knows that if I’d had a natural birth, I would have been singing it from the rooftops. & listen, there's still time if I get that VBAC.)
A year later. Where am I.
Ready. Ready to have another baby. (The first one was real cute.) Ready to gear up for battle again. It is absolutely insane how that works, & how quickly, even in the midst of dealing with all of these emotions, I was ready to do it all again.
Terrified. Terrified of my emotional state when I go into my next pregnancy, as I try to stay positive & not fear the worst for a 2nd labor. Terrified of what sort of agony I’ll be in if that 41 week date comes & goes & once again, I'm not seeing any physical signs of labor. Will I just shut down? Will I slip into depression? How do I overcome those fears? What if I DO need to be induced again? What if I DO have another c-section? (The answer is therapy. Isn’t the answer always therapy?)
Grateful. Grateful for an incredibly smooth pregnancy. That I was able to become pregnant in the first place, without any complications. For a healthy baby. For a simple, quick c-section. For a skilled surgeon & an easy recovery.
Willing. Willing to talk. It’s taken me an entire year, but finally beginning to talk about it is a huge help towards moving on. I would rather be a resource as been-there-done-that for other overdue or c-section mamas than keeping my story to myself. I felt & sometimes still feel very alone in my experience, but we’re all too connected by this internet machine to ever feel isolated.
This is the moment I met Crew. (Taken by our sweet nurse, who demanded Jared's phone. I told you we were well-loved by our birthing team. Forever grateful - I had no idea how much I'd treasure having this moment captured.) I was awake. I was hooked up to all sorts of wires & tubes. The anesthesiologist had just finished holding a tray up to my face for me to continue the barf fest I’d been having for about 12 hours, while the surgeon asked her to let him know when I was done so that he could keep stitching, lol. Crew was screaming, & our nurse (that had been with us for hours & we were ready to adopt by the end of the whole thing, it was all very Father of the Bride II) so sweetly said, “Talk to your baby!” & I did. & he stopped screaming.
& that was the moment that made it all worth it, no matter which way it happened. That’s the moment you come back to when the sadness or regret creeps in.
That’s the love.
I told you this story has a happy ending.